saniculacrassicaulisCommon name: pacific snakeroot

Scientific name: Sanicula crassicaulis

Plant family: Apiaceae

Description: Sanicula crassicaulis is a taprooted perennial which grows to be 25-120 cm tall.  It has alternate leaves which are palmate with 3-5 lobes.  The lobes are sharply toothed.  It produces small compact clusters of 8-13 small yellow flowers at the end of long stems, and blooms April through June.[1]  The stems of this plant are thick, and in fact its species name, crassicaulis, means “thick-stemmed”. [2]  Though it is a perennial, the entire above ground portion of the plant dies back every year and it is only the taproot which survives.  It produces rosettes of oval shaped, bur-like, seeds about 2-5 mm long. [1]

Habitat and range: Pacific snakeroot is generally found west of the Cascades from British Columbia to Baja California.[2, 3, 4]  It also grows in South America.[4] It is commonly found in open woods and meadows from the coast to low elevations in the mountains, and also along shoreline bluffs. [1, 3]  It is not a picky plant, as it grows in moist to dry conditions in a wide range of habitats.[1]

Historical and contemporary uses: As far as is known, Sanicula crassicaulis had few historical applications.  The Miwok Indians of Northern California used a poultice of the leaves for rattlesnake bites and other wounds. [4, 5] The Mendocino Indians chewed the roots and rubbed it on their body for good luck in gambling. [4, 5]  Apparently the plant was never eaten as it was believed to be poisonous. [4]

Our research indicates no modern uses of this plant.  Sanicles in general are unpopular in pastures for dairy cattle because they can impart an unpleasant flavor to the milk if eaten by the cows. [2]  

[1] Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Sanicula crassicaulis. Retrieved on October 16, 2011 from

[2] Pojar, J., & MacKinnon, A. (2004). Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast;

Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Vancouver: Lone Pine Publishing.

[3] Calflora. Taxon Report 7333. Sanicula crassicaulis. Retrieved on October 16, 2011from

[4] Foster, S. & Hobbs, C. (2002). A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs.New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

[5] University of Michigan. Native American Ethnobotany database. Retrieved on October 16, 2011 from